Executing Saddam

By: Greg C. Reeson

Almost immediately after the hanging of Saddam Hussein, media pundits and political analysts began speculating about whether or not the execution of the former Iraqi dictator would do anything to stem the sectarian violence that is ripping Iraq apart. The journalists and “experts” debating the topic, whether for or against the death penalty, all focus on the same question: will this solve anything?

Engaging in such discussion completely misses the point of the execution. Only the truly naïve in this world could believe, even for a moment, that the hanging of Saddam Hussein might somehow help bring about a national reconciliation among Iraqis or make diehard Baathists finally accept the fact that the Sunni minority will never return to power. Saddam’s death sentence was never intended to accomplish these long sought after goals. The execution was, simply put, punishment for Saddam’s crimes against the people of Iraq.

Born April 28, 1937 in the village of Ouja near the northern city of Tikrit, Saddam Hussein joined the radical Baath Party in 1957. He ultimately consolidated his hold on the group by murdering hundreds of his political opponents in 1979 after the Party had gained control of Iraq. The next year, in 1980, Saddam gave the order for Iraqi troops to invade neighboring Iran, a conflict that cost hundreds of thousands of lives and saw the use of chemical weapons by both sides.

In 1982, after a failed assassination attempt in Dujail, Saddam ordered the execution of 148 men and boys from the village. It was this crime that he was hanged for on December 30, but there were many others for which he should have forfeited his life. In 1987 Saddam launched the “Anfal” campaign against the Kurds in the north of the country, killing an estimated 180,000 Iraqis. In 1988, Hussein ordered, under the supervision of his cousin “Chemical Ali,” the use of mustard gas and nerve agents against the Kurdish town of Halabja, killing around 5,000 and maiming thousands more.

After invading Kuwait in 1990, Saddam ordered the burning of over 700 oil wells and the opening of pipelines that released 10 million barrels of oil into the Persian Gulf. The devastating effects on Iraq’s economy and the ensuing environmental disaster are acts the Iraqi people never completely recovered from. After the Gulf War, a 1991 Shiite uprising in southern Iraq was violently put down. Entire villages were bulldozed and between 30,000 and 60,000 Iraqis were killed.

Over the course of his twenty four years as the “Butcher of Baghdad,” Saddam Hussein operated notorious torture prisons, presided over a tightly controlled police state, waged ethnic cleansing campaigns to remove non-Arabs from Iraq, and ruthlessly murdered anyone brave enough to voice opposition to his policies or his authority.

Iraq has always been a powder keg just waiting to explode. The majority Shiites have always resented being subject to the minority Sunnis. The Kurds, who make up about twenty percent of the Iraqi population, have long sought independence from the government in Baghdad.

Saddam maintained order as a ruthless dictator who used his secret police and well-paid enforcers to snuff out dissent as soon as it appeared. He was reckless and irresponsible with both Iraq’s economy and its people. He murdered hundreds of thousands of his own citizens and squandered Iraq’s resources on efforts to preserve his rule. That is why Saddam was hanged. The violence in Iraq is far from over, regardless of the fate of the former dictator. But now, for the first time in nearly three decades, the people of Iraq can work toward a future without worrying about Saddam Hussein.

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